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Twittersphere slams Egale’s response on citizenship guide issue

Relevance of lobby group needs to be reconsidered as people organize through social media: activist

Egale executive director Helen Kennedy. Credit: Nicola Betts photo

As US gay rights groups have come under fire for ineffective tactics, Canadian queer lobby group Egale is taking heat for its response to news that gay rights were edited out of the new Canadian citizenship guide.

Queer activist Justin Stayshyn mocked Egale’s tactics in a Mar 3 tweet: “We’re here! We’re queer! We’re negotiating inclusion in the second printing!”

In a Canadian Press (CP) report on Mar 2, Egale executive director Helen Kennedy was quoted as saying she was “hopeful and optimistic” about her negotiations with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to get gay rights into the guide in the next printing.

“We’re not happy,” Kennedy tells Xtra. “But he’s told me they’re going to fix it. I can’t prejudge. I can’t second guess. Well, I can, but we’re not going to get anywhere by jumping up and down and screaming.”

Kennedy says she requested a meeting with Kenney shortly after the guide was released in Nov 2009, when it was clear there was no gay rights content in the document.

The Mar 2 CP report revealed that the minister’s office removed gay rights from an early draft of the guide, in the summer of 2009. On Mar 3 in the House of Commons, Kenney denied any personal role, saying “I did not do such a thing.”

When asked whether she could still trust Kenney’s promise to include gay rights in a reprint, Kennedy said she has to “take him at his word” for the commitment he made to her in December.

“We’ve been told we’re going to be included in the first reprint, which is later this year, and we’ve been asked for the content. He made a commitment, he told me he made a mistake, he told me it was an oversight.

“Until he phones me and says, ‘You know what, we’re not going to put it in the reprint.’ Well, then obviously I’m going to be jumping up and down. Until then, we’re going to be working with his staff to develop the content or at least look at the content that was originally suggested and add to it.”

She says she spoke with Kenney’s office on Mar 2 and staff assured her that the commitment Kenney made in December still stood.

Kenney’s office did not return Xtra’s call before publication. (Update: In Question Period on Mar 4, Kenney did not commit to adding gay rights to the document.)

Stayshyn says grassroots action on Twitter and Facebook empowers queer people while Egale’s backroom, top-down approach does not.

“We’ve seen other people responding in a way that I feel is more appropriate: demanding an apology, demanding to know why, demanding answers… the right tone for something like this,” says Stayshyn. “Actual anger and outrage…. The relevance of certain organizations needs to be reconsidered, given what our community can do using our own tools.”

He notes that more than 4,500 people have organized via a Facebook group calling for Kenney’s resignation. CUPE also launched an online petition Mar 4, demanding that the gay rights references be put back in the guide.

“Where’s the Egale petition?” asks Stayshyn. “Where’s the Egale response to the queer community? I went to the site to look for something, couldn’t find it. I went to the Facebook page, couldn’t find it.”

With the rise of social media, old-school gay lobby groups in the United States have faced criticism because of their slow and conciliatory tactics.

The US Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) came under fire in December when it didn’t immediately condemn ABC for cancelling gay singer Adam Lambert’s TV appearances.

In February, a groundswell of gay bloggers and activists slammed the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest US gay rights groups, for its failure to pressure US President Barack Obama over the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

“I would love that kind of groundswell,” says Kennedy. “If there was that kind of groundswell in Canada, it would mean people were paying attention. Let’s talk about these issues.”

“We’ve been moving forward, thank you very much,” says Stayshyn. He points to social media success stories, including the anti-prorogue rallies and stopping Beenie Man from performing in Toronto.

Kennedy says she plans to join Twitter soon. In the meantime, she points to work Egale is doing with queer refugees as a sign of progress at the federal level.

“This government’s agenda with respect to queers — we’re not even on their radar. Having said that, we’ve now been asked by the Immigration and Refugee Board to train their adjudicators.

“The relationship has never really been a healthy relationship between us and the Tories. We’re not really their constituency. But we are making some inroads in some ways. It’s not perfect and there’s a lot more to do. Certainly our training of the IRB adjudicators… this is a first and we’re excited about it.”